- Odd News
Walking out of her hypnotherapist’s treatment rooms, Asher Bourke felt troubled by a nagging sense of unease.
Previous sessions had left her feeling relaxed and happy, freed from the anxiety that had plagued her for years.
But now the 19-year-old’s head was filling with flashes of terrifying images.
She saw Philip Sherwin, the hypnotist she trusted, sexually assault her as she lay paralysed and powerless on his couch.
She wondered whether the hypnotherapy might be playing tricks with her mind.
But, as more recollections hit, she became more certain she had been abused.
“As things slowly started to come back I pieced them together thinking, ‘Did that really happen or was it a horrible dream?’” explains Asher, now 22.
“I wanted to go to the police but I was scared in case it wasn’t true.
However, he had recorded our sessions, so I knew there could be a video.”
Asher finally reported Sherwin.
He was arrested and a stash of 42,000 child abuse images were found on his computer – along with the video of him sexually assaulting Asher in his Leicester treatment room.
Last week Sherwin, 47, of Leicester, was jailed for 18 months and placed on the sex offenders’ register for 10 years .
Now Asher, who is studying photography at De Montfort University, has waived her right to anonymity to speak out and encourage other victims to come forward.
Asher’s problems began in December 2004 when her aunt died, followed by the unexpected death of her grandmother the following month.
“I was really close to both of them and just didn’t expect them to go.
"I’d always been a worrier but the anxiety got really bad.
"If a friend didn’t answer the phone I’d think they’d had a car crash and if I felt my heart beating I thought it was a heart attack.
“I was terrified of going to sleep in case I didn’t wake up.
"My friends and family were supportive but because I’m confident I don’t think they could fully understand.”
Desperate for help, Asher went to her GP and was prescribed anti-anxiety medication but she refused to take it in case she became addicted.
Instead Asher researched alternative therapies. Encouraged by friends she decided to give hypnotherapy a go – and quickly found Sherwin.
“His website was very professional, so I had no reason to doubt him.”
In May 2010, Asher went along to the £95 appointment.
She recalls: “He seemed so caring and friendly. I felt completely comfortable and told him a lot about my past. I totally trusted him.
“He asked me if I minded if he videoed the session. I agreed, assuming this was totally normal.”
During that first session Sherwin put Asher in a light trance.
“It was the best I’d felt since I was little, like a burden had been lifted.”
A couple of weeks later Asher returned for a half-price “booster”. Again, she left feeling fantastic.
Afterwards Sherwin asked Asher to help him with an experiment. But very quickly she realised this session was going to be very different.
“He told me he’d use a form of chi massage that involved very light touch and started to chant this weird numeric code as he put me into a deep trance.
"My heart started to beat really quickly. When I came round I felt disorientated and really tired.”
Then, as she left Sherwin’s room, paranoia set in.
She adds: “Everything made me jump. I was convinced some crows I saw on a lamp-post were following me, it was terrifying.
"I became too scared to leave the house, terrified when anyone knocked at the door or even when the postman came.
“I also started to remember the odd thing he had done. He’d talked about me being a model and took photos of my feet.”
After struggling for two weeks Asher called Sherwin, begging for help.
He denied it was his fault but agreed to a free session and, in desperation, she went back.
Asher recalls: “This time, he said he was taking me into a light trance but when I came round I felt odd and light-headed.
“By the time I got home, I felt nauseous and dizzy. I went straight to bed and slept for 11 hours. When I woke up I felt very panicky.
"I went to get a glass of water and as I sat down, sickening images started flashing before my eyes of what Philip had done.
“I was shaking as I remembered he’d reminded me I used to be a model and asked if I’d take my top off, but I said no.
“He then said he’d have to take my trousers off to release the ‘energy channels’.
"Philip told me it was normal if I felt sexually aroused during the session. He then started touching my thighs.
“He lifted my top up and pushed my knickers slightly down and began massaging my lower tummy.
"I squeezed my eyes shut at a flashback of him sweeping his hands up and down my body and touching me intimately.
"He’d rubbed his hand over the front of my knickers. I felt sick.”
Initially worried the police would not believe her Asher confided in a friend who persuaded her to give a full statement. A month later Sherwin was arrested.
Even so the effects of the attack continued to haunt her.
She abandoned her gap year travelling after a month and deferred her place at Manchester University where she planned to study philosophy.
“I finally went back to my GP and he prescribed me anti-depressants and this time I took them.
"He also prescribed Valium for the horrendous insomnia. I was so desperate to sleep I took several in one go and started hallucinating.
“I went for a walk to clear my head but collapsed in the street. A passer-by called for an ambulance and I was taken to hospital.
"It was only then that I told my mum something had happened but I never went into detail, not wanting to upset her.”
It was a year later, in spring 2011, that police called to say videos confiscated from Sherwin’s house showed him sexually assaulting her and that photos of her in her underwear had also been discovered.
Asher recalls: “I was glad the video existed to show I was telling the truth but it brought everything back.
"The thought of him watching the videos was disgusting.”
Sherwin was jailed after earlier admitting sexual assault and 10 counts of possessing indecent images of children.
The judge criticised the lack of regulation of hypnotherapy practitioners after hearing that ex-print worker Sherwin had completed just a one-week course and two-day seminar before setting up his practice.
It was only when Asher met her fiance in February last year that she started to pick up the pieces of her life.
“I don’t feel angry, I just pity Sherwin,” she says. “But I’m frustrated I’ve missed out on two years of my life.
“Sherwin used his power of trust to abuse me for his own sexual gratification.
"It still makes me feel sick whenever I think about it. I just hope he never hurts anyone else ever again.”